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Moral of the Story: Divorce Is Tough
evanston_dad22 November 2005
A friend of mine was hesitant to see this movie, because she'd heard that it pushes the agenda that divorce is never a good option for dealing with marital problems. I don't really know who told her this, and I hope this same reason isn't keeping others from seeing it. This isn't at all what I took away from the film. It certainly communicates the idea that divorce isn't easy, on either the parents or the kids, but I don't feel that it pronounces judgement on those who turn to it as an option.

"The Squid and the Whale" is a sad--though at times very funny--look at what divorce does to one family in 1986 New York. Jeff Daniels plays the dad, a pompous, arrogant writer whose feelings of commercial failure (he teaches literature at a university) cause him to act intellectually superior to everyone he meets. Daniels is almost too good in this role; he reminded me way too much of people I actually know who are like this. He's the kind of guy who would be deadly at a dinner party, because there's no such thing as a casual or flippant remark in this guy's presence. He analyzes everything to death, and isn't content until everyone's opinion matches his own.

Laura Linney plays the wayward mom, blamed for the break up of the marriage by the dad because of a string of affairs she carries on. Her guilt keeps her from being able to discipline her sons, especially the oldest, who treats her horribly. Linney's role is smaller but in some ways much more complex than Daniels'. Her character has to take responsibility for her infidelity but still make the audience sympathize with her.

Caught in the middle of this mess are their two boys. The oldest quickly allies himself with his dad, and walks around regurgitating his father's opinions on every subject, rarely pausing to form any of his own. The younger son, more sensitive and tired of being intellectually brow beaten by his father and older brother, sticks closer to the mom. No one is totally to blame, yet no one is completely innocent either in this honest and frank film.

Noah Baumbach has made no secret of the fact that it is based on his own adolescent life, and it has that confessional feeling that movies in this genre frequently do. There are awkward moments when this doesn't totally work. The ending for one is rather ham-fisted, and a scene between the oldest son and his school therapist seemed awfully pat to me. But the acting and the sharp writing make up for these weaknesses, and the movie manages to be poignant without ever becoming maudlin or overly sentimental.

See it for the performances of Linney and especially Daniels, who has been proving his versatility as an actor over the last few years.

Grade: A-
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One Turtle would have made it Better
David Ferguson30 October 2005
Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director (and Wes Anderson collaborator) Noah Baumbach presents a semi-autobiographical therapy session where he unleashes the anguish and turmoil that has carried over from his childhood. The result is an amazing insight into what many people go through in a desperate attempt to try and make their family work.

The casting of Jeff Daniels forces us to view him as the grown up Flap from "Terms of Endearment". He has become a bitter, unfocused, pompous ass of a person, father, husband and professor. The inability to recapture the magic of his early writing success has caused him to look down on all other writers ... whether they be Fitzgerald or his own wife. This is Daniels' best work ever on screen and is at once, painful and a joy to behold.

Laura Linney plays his wife as a woman who loves her kids unequivocally and has a zest for life that her downbeat husband no longer shares. Her new found success as a writer sets her off on a trail of confidence and joy, all the while understanding that her family still needs her very much.

The kids really take the film to the next level. Jessie Eisenberg (brilliant in "Roger Dodger") and Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) are both scene stealers as they struggle in their own distinct ways with their separated parents and their continuance through adolescence. Watching Eisenberg's worship his dad and subsequently realize the truth is just amazing stuff. Kline's outbursts on the tennis court and at the ping pong table are nothing compared to his discovery of alcohol and self-pleasure. The angst and pain these two experience is felt by millions of kids in divorce situations.

Other outstanding performances include William Baldwin (the one from "Backdraft"), Holly Feifer (as Eisenberg's first girlfriend) and Anna Paquin (underused, but still very effective). Baldwin provides some comic relief with his incessant "my brother" narrative and Feifer is extraordinary in capturing teen adoration as she lusts after Eisenberg. Thanks to her distinct similarity in looks to Linney, I laughed outloud when Daniels tells Eisenberg "she's not my type".

Listening to Daniels try to manipulate everyone he communicates with causes immense dislike among viewers, but we can't help but feel some empathy for him as he seems to believe he is doing all he can do put his family back together. His fatherly advice is not to be missed (or followed!). Watching him look for the perfect parking place is really his search for his place in a world that has deserted him.

Baumbach has created a terrific film and probably exorcised some personal demons along the way. Definitely not a film for the whole family, but it offers much insight and many messages. Also the use of the soundtrack is downright brilliant including key music from Pink Floyd and Loudon Wainright.
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depressingly refreshing
gdsoul8 November 2005
More acutely than I've experienced in a long time, this film captures the process of personality inheritance within families. The interaction/influence between Bernard and Walt is almost painful to watch at times, but it's completely rich. Beyond just that father/son dynamic, the story is so poignant without ever getting sappy - a true accomplishment for a family drama involving divorce. Nothing hits you over the head. Nothing seems too forced. While there's plenty of confusion, discomfort, and alienation, a sense of love shines through, and I couldn't help but get attached to all of the characters. I recommend this film unconditionally.
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Patricide with a dull knife
Mel Klein25 September 2005
Noah Baumbach takes a loving (oh?) stab at his parents' divorce, brought on by the hilariously immature antics of his father, and my writing professor, the ever pompous Jonathan Baumbach (Jeff Daniels).

Brooklyn College was a hotbed of activism and liberal arts when I first encountered Jonathan Baumbach (rechristened "Bernard" in the film, a sly wink at Jonathan's mentor and hero, Bernard Malamud). The arrogance and complete lack of self awareness is perfectly captured by Daniels in his over-the-top performance which, amazingly, underplays the actual father.

To call the picture patricidal is to completely miss the point; Baumbach pere is so self centered, he likely sees the film as an homage. Baumbach Sr. is a great writer; he receives good reviews in the literary journals and his books sell in the hundreds. Baumbach Jr., on the other hand, is a great filmmaker, and his movies (The Life Aquatic) are seen by millions. I'm sure the father is disappointed that the son isn't pursuing tenure at a small Ohio college.

I saw this film in a cozy college theater at the Toronto Film Festival. I half expected to run into Jonathan Baumbach, in his leather patched tweed jacket, preening for the audience and eying the coeds.

Funny and poignant. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to choke the bastard.
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Although the Title is a bit Cryptic...The Message is Very Clear!
KissEnglishPasto2 August 2016
........................................................from Pasto,Colombia...Via: L.A. CA., CALI, COLOMBIA and ORLANDO, FL

For dyed in the wool fans of European cinema, The Squid and the Whale, an independent production, Grand Prize winner at the "Sundance" Film Festival, has much more in common with films from the old continent than with those huge budget Hollywood productions. IMDb lists its budget as 1.5 Million, most certainly paltry, especially when compared to the 100 to 200 million dollar behemoths that abound in LA-LA-LAND! So if the European style is to your liking, we guarantee that "Squid" will truly enchant you!

To justify my initial assertion, let's just analyze SQUID for a moment:

A) No CGI effects, No car chases or crashes, and no 100 Decibel Explosions!

B) SQUID is highly character-driven

C) SQUID is very heavy on intense, highly focused dialog

D) SQUID's characters have almost no physical contact, but engage in relentless psychological arm-wrestling!

E) SQUID resorts to NO cinematic gimmicks of any kind, whatsoever!

F) Considering that both Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney appear in SQUID, with its minuscule budget, it cannot be anything other than a TRUE labor of love!

If the above list hits some of your cinematic hot buttons… You really MUST SEE Squid!

If you are unphased…DON'T!!!!!…Simple as that!


Any comments, questions or observations, in English o en Español, are most welcome!
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Boring, predictable, and just crass.
kathleen-pangan10 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I just watched The Squid and the Whale. My sister recommended it to me, saying it was an indie film with a ton of awards and some famous people like Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and William Baldwin. Having not watched an independent film in some time, and having planned on a date with my Mom for this movie, I was excited to watch it. Boy was I disappointed.

The movie is set in the 1980s in Brooklyn, and is about a divorce between two writers and how the separation affects everyone in the family, including their two boys. Everyone hurts everyone, they all cuss at each other, they're all having sex with someone inappropriate or masturbating in public. The job does a good job at making you feel uncomfortable, and maybe that's the point of the movie. Usually, though, there is a point to the movie. What's the point of this one? Divorce is hard? Well, everyone knows that. It was predictable and just boring with a crass overtone. I started cutting mosaic tiles in the middle of the movie because it was so boring and predictable. It was definitely not an enjoyable film, or even thought-provoking. It didn't even do a good job at making me feel depressed, if that was what it was supposed to do, although it did make me mad at my sister for recommending this stupid film which was a definite waste of my two hours.
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Well Drawn Characters
mkillian1 December 2005
It's interesting to read all of the comments and how each reviewer has found something unique that calls to them. Some reviewers have focused on the boys or the father or the mother. Different scenes have been noted, almost none by more than one reviewer. What this tells me is that the writer/director has crafted a story in which all of the scenes contribute to the whole. This was my experience watching the movie. It was believable, well shot, great backgrounds, all in all a treat for anyone who loves movies and can handle some pretty raw dialog/situations.....and nothing gets blown up.

I would recommend this only for adults or a very mature teenager. The language and situations are tough but as I said, very believable. I identified with much of what the teens in this movie are going through and my sympathies definitely sided with them against their self-involved and self-indulgent parents. This is the best role I've ever seen Jeff Daniels in and having known men in my life like his character I think he was spot-on with his portrayal. There were no weak characterizations with any of the actors, for that matter.
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Your Mother's Brother Ned was a Philistine
Warning: Spoilers
Noah Baumbach's semi-autobiographical tale of divorce in the mid-1980's in Brooklyn is funny and touching and ranks right up there with the best work of Woody Allen or Sophia Coppola as superb bourgeois cinema where we are treated to the neurotic underbelly of over-educated, over-indulged, upwardly mobile, urban middle class families. This a wonderful film imbued with a fantastic sense of place and time and small details in which the viewer can find great delight (like the hilarious scene where Jeff Daniels takes his teenage son and the kid's new girlfriend to see David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" instead of the first choice "Short Circuit" or the closing shot of the actual squid fighting a whale at the NYC Musueum of Natural History).

Jeff Daniels is slyly funny as the cheapskate, snobbish father who was once the toast of the literary world and is now just getting by on teaching. Laura Linney is again perfection (when is she not, really) as the mother just starting her own brilliant literary career and who is a bit too open about her sexuality with her children. While the parents bicker over custody (even the cat gets to skate between two homes), the older son acts out by plagiarizing Pink Floyd in a talent show and nervous encounters with girls (one of whom is his father's live-in student/lover played by the always alluring Anna Paquin), and the younger son (a very good Owen Kline-real life son of Kevin Kline and Pheobe Cates) turns to drinking alone and public masturbation.

It's all as awkward, real, and devastatingly funny as it sounds. A great script and even better acting highlight this tale of a family on the skids. Every member of the family is brilliantly brought to life and even though they are acting in their own flawed, selfish, self-annihilating and myopic ways, they still endear themselves to the audience like they are our own family.

Bottom line: Only a Philistine would turn down the chance to enjoy "The Squid and the Whale."
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Great script and a cast of champions
ElijahB2219 September 2005
Almost a perfect movie. Everyone needs to see this one.

Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are both extraordinary. Factor in the performances of Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline and this may be the most well-acted movie I've seen in a couple of years.

I've never enjoyed watching Daniels so much. Kline hits a home-run in his first major role. Eisenberg's performance is Oscar-worthy. (Yes, Daniels is great, but Eisenberg earns a Best Supporting Actor nomination in this one!)

What I enjoyed most of all is how some very, VERY delicate humor is brilliantly woven throughout this incredibly sad movie.

Cheers to Noah Baumbach for putting his life on paper and letting these terrific actors tell the tale.

That's it. Thanks for reading.
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The break up
jotix10020 October 2005
Noah Baumbach, the immensely talented writer, and director of "The Squid and the Whale" clearly demonstrates he is one of the brightest young directors working in America today. Having admired his previous films, we were looking forward to this new work in which he presents a part of his life, baring his soul, something some other movie makers would shy away from. This experience must have been a painful reminder for Mr. Baumbah of his past, or maybe it served as a catharsis.

If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading here.

The Berkman household in Park Slope, Brooklyn, appears to be normal when we are introduced to the family. These are the kinds of parents that encourage their two children participate in discussions in which books are at the center of the conversation. What's more, Walt, the eldest boy, seems to know a lot about what is discussed. Bernard, the father, is an author that hasn't got a lot of recognition and now teaches college to support the family. Joan, the mother, also a writer, is starting to get her work published. The two sons, Walt and Frank are clever beyond their years.

Evidently, not all seems to be happy in the house. First, one notices Bernard making the couch in the morning, in which he has slept in order to "ease his back problems". Joan, is a supporting mother, but somehow, she appears to be distant. Both parents sit with the kids one night to tell them about their impending separation. Of course, this takes Frank, and especially Frank aback by the announcement. The semblance of a tightly knit family begins to unravel in front of the children's eyes.

For Walt, the situation is not as crucial as it is for Frank. Being older and being a city kid, Walt has seen this happening among his age group. For Frank, however, his parents break up is the end of the world, as he knew it. Both boys are resilient in accepting the situation. It's clear Bernard and Joan love their sons, but the idea of not having both parents around at the same time is devastating.

"The Squid and the Whale" is a film that lays bare the emotions the two boys are experiencing. Basically, it's their film as it shows how they have to adjust to the new circumstances. They both adore their parents, but the resentment is clear as they blame Bernard and Joan for daring to fall out of love and in a way, abandon them to a new reality the older Berkmans didn't prepared them for.

The quality of the acting Mr. Baumbach gets from this ensemble cast is absolutely amazing. We believe we are, in a way, intruding in this family's problems. We are voyeurs to the tragedy their separation presents for the boys. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are perfect as the elder Berkmans. Mr. Daniels, especially, gives an inspired performance for his take of the stingy Bernard. Ms. Linney, one of our best actresses, is marvelous as Joan.

What the director has done with the young actors, Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline is something incredible. We can't think of any other director that could have accomplished what Noah Baumbach has in guiding them to make the great contribution both these teen agers gave to the film. Both actors are up to the task and there are never a false move from anyone of them.

The supporting cast is interesting. William Baldwin plays the tennis pro Ivan. Anna Paquin is good as Lili, Bernard's student that is wiser than her young years indicate. Halley Feiffer is perfectly sweet as Sophie who likes Walt.

The film has been photographed in a faded technique by Robert Yeoman that gives the film a nostalgic look. The musical score is fine, reflecting the era in which the movie takes place.

The movie is a triumph for Noah Baumbah who clearly shows he is an unique voice for these times.
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This movie left me with one burning question (LOTS O' SPOILERS)
lola8830 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What about the freaking cat?? It's the only character in the whole damn movie I cared about. Oh, and Sophie--I hope she ran far and fast.

It's bizarre that so many people and journalists raved about this. It's emotionally unsophisticated and full of tired clichés about pompous academics and Park Slope liberals. The director's completely unresolved issues are painfully displayed. Dude. Therapy. Get some.

The father is so one-dimensional that he's not interesting to watch. But the mother--who is clearly the sympathetic parent in the director's eyes--is also horrible. Because her husband is so awful she's allowed to cheat on him for years? And did no one else think that SHE was equally responsible for leaving Frank alone for the weekend? He's a child--what if her husband had had his heart attack then? And where was she going that she couldn't wait 30 minutes for her ex to show up? Also, saving up the "you wanted joint custody because you're cheap" revelation timing for maximum emotional crippling? Nice. All in all, a family full of miserable people who all deserved one another.

Do not be deceived by the stated running time: One and a half hours of torture can seem like five.
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Literary autobiography with heartfelt humor; Daniels' career best and Oscar worthy
george.schmidt7 October 2005
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005) **** Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jessie Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin, William Baldwin.

Literary autobiography with heartfelt humor.

Filmmaker Noah Baumbach is back in fine form since his debut with the excellent "Kicking and Screaming" (a personal fave of mine; a "Diner" for the '90s) in this semi-autobiographical account of his family's dealing with his parent's divorce with bittersweet frankness and a heaping of witty humor.

The family Berkman of Park Slope, Brooklyn circa the early 1980s, consists of author/teacher Bernard (Daniels in a career high performance that deserves an Oscar nod), literary pursuant mother Joan (Linney sublimely good) and sons Walt and Frank (Eisenberg and Kline, the latter the progeny of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates making a Culkinian debut with surprising chops) aka Chicken and Pickle (their mom's nicknames). The quartet is harmonious in literary pursuits and drastic life changes when the parents agree on separating sending the boys (and ultimately themselves) into an emotional tailspin.

Bernard, a very sardonic critical yet loving man, is taking it very internally despite his sarcastic remarks about everything to his sons as a sounding board in his attempt to keep his boys together by a joint custody agreement with Joan by taking a fixer-upper brownstone across the park while he deals with the likelihood that his new book will never be published.

Joan's affairs are discovered shockingly by the boys - Walt the more avuncularly bitter lashing out and blaming her for not giving the marriage a chance reasoning that dad's lack of success has made her seek another shot a life of empty sex yet promise in her undiscovered writing talents (much to the resentment of Bernard); meanwhile budding tennis pro wannabe Frank, the youngest, begins to experiment with alcohol and masturbation.

Added to the mix is Lili (Paquin), a female writing student of Bernard's, who has a hidden agenda when Bernard invites her to share his new home as a roommate while the boys visit every other day with mixed results. Walt is attempting to begin a sexual awakening as well with his first girlfriend but is getting all the wrong comic advice from Bernard who is clueless with the opposite sex as he is also trying to have sex with Lili while burning over Joan who has hooked up with Frank's tennis instructor Ivan (a doofy Baldwin whose every other utterance is "Brother").

Achingly funny, sharply witty and skewering with some pricelessly amusing moments including the running gag of Bernard driving his kids around the neighborhood ("my space is missing!" an apt metaphor for his listless situation) and subtle touches (Bernard reading Saul Bellow's THE VICTIM and the new home decorated with posters of films like PSYCHO and THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE and using the instrumental theme of Tangerine Dream's score to "Risky Business" during Frank's sexual awakenings!) ) bring a smile if not a burst of laughter in the unease of a family's reluctant transition that will scar them forever.

Baumbach is clearly making a heartfelt valentine to his own upbringing when his parents eventually divorced during his trying teens and the affects that have rubbed off are bittersweet and universally humorous. He has a keen touch with his actors – especially Daniels, the centerpiece character, who is brilliantly funny, touching and head-shaking misanthropic at the absurdity of his situation (at one point he says glibly with a touch of melancholy, "that's my home which I used to live in…as you may know", to his son during one of their jaunts back and forth) that has echoes of his first fine role as Flap, the philandering English professor husband of the doomed Debra Winger in "Terms of Endearment", suggesting a bookend to what Flap may have become ultimately (and I'm damned if I'm not right at one point Walt is looking at his father's novel's backflap and the photo suggests a still from that film!). Bernard genuinely cares for his family but does things in such an ass-backward (and frugal) way that it is borderline heartbreaking especially his confounded loss of his status (both professionally and familially) that at one point I welled up with tears as he caressed a shelve of books while dropping Frank off with his mom. Daniels has always been one of my all-time faves and a severely underrated (and underestimated actor) it's be criminal if he didn't get an Academy Award nomination.

There are some very funny moments throughout with the brothers particularly Frank's stream of profanities in frustration at the tennis lessons (no doubt from his competitive father in several sequences) and Walt's stone-cold declaration that the musical piece he will be performing, Pink Floyd's "Hey You", was written by him as an original work!

Baumbach has crafted some fine work over the years (the aforementioned masterpiece of "Kicking & Screaming" about recent college grad buds deliberately not accepting their new status in the 'real world' by refusing to adapt and his recent collaboration with executive producer and fellow auteur Wes Anderson on last year's equally sublimely funny/sad "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou") and his latest, a blend of Salinger and Updike suggests a novella come to life and one of the year's finest comedic dramas.
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"The Squid and the Whale" may leave you in need of therapy
bscowler28 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Screenwriter and director Noah Baumbach's tale of his incredibly dysfunctional family could easily have been re-named "The Addams Family - 1986". The film recounts his ugly childhood with his younger brother, his writer-father and aspiring writer-mother living in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1986. His father Bernard, played revoltingly well by Jeff Daniels, has absolutely no concept of what's going on outside of his own world as he spews obscenities and dwells on his past as a respected writer; of course now no one wants anything to do with his writing so he teaches English instead (Gee, haven't we see that a few hundred times in films?)Bernard's wife Joan, played by a mousy Laury Linney, decide that after many years of marriage that divorce is the best option; which seems odd considering that they have nothing good to say about each other and that Joan has had affairs with at least four different men during their marriage. Why they don't continue with this nightmarish marriage isn't explained; there isn't a catalyst for this decision. Once the separation occurs and Bernard relocates several blocks away to a house of lesser amenities the film shifts focus to the effect the separation has on the two children; Walt and Frank Berkman. Walt, played by a brow-furrowed Jesse Eisenberg, idolizes his father and models his view of the world after Bernard's twisted vision. The majority of observations from Walt's mouth are direct quotes from his father, yet instead of revealing the depth of admiration Walt has for his father these comments simply show Walt as being shallow and pathetic. We wait for Walt to develop a mind of his own but sadly that never happens. Frank, played mincingly by Owen Kline, steals the film as the repulsive chronic masturbator who leaves his calling card on any non-human surface. At one point Joan and Bernard get their child custody duties mixed up and accidentally leave Frank alone for three days. Frank spends the time drinking Scotch, masturbating to his mom's underwear, and passing out on the bathroom floor. The next scene is Joan and Bernard being confronted by the school counselor. What happened for the rest of Frank's long weekend? A nine year old boy left alone with hard liquor and a Oedipal complex is a film in itself, but we aren't allowed to witness this, or a scene where the parents find Frank near death from alcohol poisoning (assuming that could have easily happened) lying in a pile of his mother's panties. The rest of the film is filled with Walt's blatant plagiarism, a non-stop stream of offensive cursing, arguments, premature ejaculation, Bernard allowing his dinner guests at restaurants to only order half-orders because he's so cheap, unbelievable therapy sessions, Bernard trying to force his female student and border to perform oral sex only to be interrupted by his son, and a medical emergency that is offered as redemption but fails. Contrary to reviews I've read, there is nothing charming, endearing, funny, or clever about this film. It truly boggles my mind that most critics enjoyed this film. The only reason I can conjure is that most of these critics were raised in a family as hellish as this one so it's like spending time with old, heavily medicated friends. If this film's final scene was of the four Berkman's going for a hot air balloon ride over the Catskills, and the balloon crashing in flames into the mountains with no survivors, then I just might have walked out of the theater with a smile on my face. As it is, this a slice of American ugliness that no one should have to endure.
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Flawed film had all the pieces to be great
nobigdealProductions11 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I'll go a head and warn my review contains *SPOILERS* so if you haven't seen the film I then READ AT YOUR OWN RISK....

I went into the squid and the whale excited but realistic about my expectations for the film. I was impressed by Jesse Eisenberg in Roger Dodger and have always respected Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney and with Noah Baumbach helming I figured the movie was in capable hands. However I did fear that after viewing the trailer that I had already seen the best squid had to offer. In some ways I was right.

Firstly it deserves praise for it's portrayal of adolescent males. I found a lot of truth in Franks character. The scenes in which he studies himself in the mirror reminded me greatly of the same self absorbed and curious qualities I had at that stage in my life. However Baumbach played some of Franks sexual exploits and dirty language in a exploitive manner. The way he was portrayed made his character too much of a tool to shock the audience. In fact many scenes depicting sexuality seemed thrown in. The line were Bernard says to Lili, "Put me in your mouth" was petty and did little to reinforce any character traits that weren't already glaringly clear. I have no problem with risqué dialog or scenes that show characters in a despicable light. However that scene in particular seemed hollow. Bernard or Lili were not developed enough for me to really care that he would say something so rude to her. I already got that he was a self absorbed, loathing character. If Baumbach had used that line to trigger a stronger response in any of the three characters involved it would have felt natural. Instead we see nothing of Lili after and Walt didn't meditate very long after hearing something so low come from his father's mouth. I understand Bernard was a jerk, and used similar language around Walt. But still, it was far harsher then anything he uttered before or after. Yet no one seemed to really notice. I could see how combined with the final argument and Bernard's self absorbed lines in the hospital it could "justify" Walt to see his parents in a clearer light. Yet Baumbach let the moment pass to quickly missing what could have been a stronger beat. Which brings me to my main problem with the film. Baumbach's pacing never lets the audience into the characters heads. He throws things at you and the characters so fast that neither you nor they seem to have the time to let the emotions sink in.

The number one thing that troubled me however was the ending. I understand that Walt mentions he could never look at the squid and the whale fighting but come on! To have him go and look at a giant squid and the whale fight as a way to end the movie? Please, not only do I always question movies that use the title as a line in the film that is "really important" to the story but to have something as petty and unemotional as a character looking at a science sculpture! If it had been better shot it may have work, however I didn't even have the time to let the emotions of the scene sink in before I was slammed with a big Title Card!!! Honestly I felt I was watching an unfinished film and that the editor didn't know what to do so they just put a title card to let the audience know "yes that was all folks!"

One other thing I found useless was the "gag" although no one laughed where Joan comes out of the bathroom and the Walt says something about the nasty smell. Why include this? Was it funny? No! Was it important to the story, scene, or characters? No! All it did was leave a foul taste in my mouth for no reason.

Still for as much as I've said what didn't work Squid does have some good things going for it. I'd like to thank the whole crew for making a film about people and human relationships in a time when so many movies seem to be about nothing more then eye candy. Also big props to all the actors for fine performances.

Squid and the Whale is a much stronger film then most, which is why I was so disappointed that it couldn't rise above it's problems to be something truly special.
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A major disappointment
Vash200127 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I heard this movie was an Oscar contender and had received rave reviews from critics. I am among the few that found it totally tasteless. The topic was good- divorce and its effect on a family. The acting was stellar by all 4 main characters. However, the foul language by just about every character, in nearly every scene, and some very offensive actions were too much for me.

There was humor in the movie, and some of it was even good but it was often contaminated with the offensive language. I am not puritanical; I can handle four letter words but they should not dominate the dialog the way it did in this movie.

Inspite of that, the movie held my interest until it came to a crashing end.

SPOILERS ahead..............

What really disappointed me was the ending. It was too abrupt, too vague, and basically it was not like an ending. It is OK to have an open ended 'ending', that is subject to interpretation, but it needs to flow better. This one did not. I had to wait until 90 percent of the movie was over to hear 'The squid and the whale' and shortly after that the movie ended, with these two entities in the museum.

Overall, a bid disappointment. I have no problem with Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney getting Oscar nominations (if they do); they deserve them, but the movie as a whole does not work. JMHO.
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The New York Intelligensia Behaving Badly
dj_bassett17 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A family breaks apart, mainly because the father is an irredeemable prick.

Not bad, though the critics have been overrating this one -- I suspect because many of them recognize themselves in the characters. (This is the SIDEWAYS of 2005.) It's most notable for Daniels's excellent performance: he is fantastic as the selfish, narcissistic, self-pitying, pompous, cheapskate burnt-out writer. It's a caricature, but a wickedly accurate one of a certain type.

As for the rest of the movie, though, it's okay but plays it too predictable within it's mini-genre. The battle lines are too clearly drawn, we know from the start who's side we should be on. The strained metaphor of the squid and the whale is worked at dutifully, but uninterestingly. The two big music pieces in the movie come from Roger Waters-era Floyd and Lou Reed, which for a certain pretentious generation are as much totems as anything Daniels character spits out. (This could be meant ironically, but I suspect not -- it's probably more symptomatic of the movie's essential unreflectiveness.)
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A Differing Opinion
auriferous3 January 2006
Judging by most of the reviews on these pages and elsewhere, one might think this movie was a minor masterpiece, some deep insightful exploration of the American family. It is not. It is a pointless, meandering depiction of self-destructive and fairly uninteresting people. There's hardly a plot to speak of, and the acting, while OK, is nothing spectacular. The characters portrayed in this film are the kind of people you probably would not want to spend five minutes with were they real people, so why pay money to spend an hour and a half with them in a movie theater? (That, by the way, is the review. But IMDb seems to think that one cannot say something worth publishing in less than 10 lines.)
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I've never been so interested in people I don't care about
rooprect5 September 2013
The opening scene hits us with a bunch of characters who are so unlikeable that you may wonder what's the point in watching their lives for 81 minutes. In hindsight, and after watching the DVD interview with writer/director Noah Baumbach, I'm sure this was deliberate. By disliking (or rather disconnecting from) the characters at the outset, the audience can take a more objective, emotionless view of this dysfunctional family--much the same way the family approaches itself.

So don't expect many weepy scenes where you say to yourself, "I feel exactly like that character!" Because unless you're an egotistical snob of a father who ironically swears like a common sailor at his kids, or unless you're the cluelessly devoted son who parrots everything the father says, or the passive-aggressive mother who has affairs rather than confront her marital problems, or the younger son who seems pretty cool until he inexplicably starts doing disgusting things in the library (and I mean disgusting!), then I don't think you'll immediately associate with any character in the film. Not the way you might in a standard Hollywood crowd pleaser.

If you can make it past that, "The Squid and the Whale" becomes a thoroughly engaging, entertaining, and at times funny experience. It kept me riveted from start to finish, and I found myself wishing it had been longer.

A word about the humor: don't expect any big gags. In fact, in the interview Noah talks about how he had to tell the actors *not* to read their lines as if they're funny. He didn't intend it to be a comedy, but still (owing largely to the fantastic deadpan performances by Jeff Daniels & Jesse Eisenberg) you might find yourself cracking up at how plain bizarre everything is. Jeff Daniels (the father) in particular plays such a satirical caricature of a horrible parent that there's no other way to interpret his character than: a clown.

Something that has to be mentioned is the setting & time period of this film. Brooklyn 1986. Although I'm not a Brooklynite, I can speak as an 80s kid who loved all the minor references... clothes, hairstyles, Burger King collectible glasses at the dinner table, and the music! They picked a few gems I probably haven't heard since '86. All of this adds tremendous authenticity to the story and takes you on a sort of fantasy ride. It's hard to believe they got 21st century Brooklyn to look like 1986 on a small indie budget of $1.5 million, but I thought it was flawless.

On a filmmaking level, I noticed some cute nods to the French New Wave school of film (handheld cameras swinging back & forth for jarring effect à la "Jules & Jim" by Truffaut) and a general Godard-ish, brooding vibe to the whole presentation while not afraid to show bright, vibrant scenes. Whether or not you're a fan of New Wave, if you like unconventional camera work you'll probably get a kick out of Noah's approach.

Film I would compare this to are the excellent "City Island" which is on the lighter side, "The Savages" which is on the darker side, and "The Beaver" which is on the mildly psychotic side. Don't hesitate to see any one of them if you get the chance.
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Rich and downright enjoyable.
Jamie Ward19 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"Don't most of your friends already have divorced parents?" "Yeah, but, I don't." Telling the all too familiar tale of a family driven apart by divorce, The Squid and the Whale which comes as a semi-autobiography of sorts penned by Noah Baumbach at times feels like it was written by anyone who's gotten out of such a situation alive, and is still able to see the funny side. Told as a rather straight-forward character drama with some great comedic moments interspersed throughout, Baumbach's story here feels rich in nuanced, down-to-earth characterisation and conflict that never feels tacked on or contrived. Yet neither does his script get bogged down by melodrama and become too self-serious (in fact, it hardly even reaches any semblance of genre grimness you may expect at all), maintaining a stern but somewhat neurotic grip on its story at hand—that is, of his parent's divorce and his resulting relationship with them both alongside his younger brother.

Played out by a terrific ensemble cast who nail each individual quirk present in Baumbach's script whilst maintaining a sense of reality and fragile unity between the four, the performances, alongside the director's characters make for a movie that always maintains its charm and interest. Indeed, for a character-drama such as what Baumbach has thus far made a career out of (for the most part), The Squid and the Whale does tremendously well in making sure these characters jump out at you, but never to your dismay. While each has their vices, Baumbach embeds his own personal feelings and ties to these people within the script to the point that they feel genuinely human—and this is perhaps the movie's biggest selling point brought into clear focus by the performances given by a surprisingly intense Daniels, a captivating Linney, the always engaging Eisenberg and a hilariously concise break- out outing for young Owen Kline.

To be fair, The Squid and the Whale is not without its rough spots; half of the movie's somewhat maudlin third act is hard to swallow after the preceding, less dramatic acts, and there are a few secondary characters who may serve as interesting catalysts to shift things around, yet such tepid moments are so far and few between that they hardly make an impact at all. Instead what you are left to experience is a terrific little movie about a less-than-terrific little marriage which gave birth to one of cinema's most interesting, yet cathartic humanistic families full of pathos and—well—character. So too often are we forced to endure cookie- cutter family dramas whether it's on the big screen or the small screen that it can be something of a miracle that a story as rich and downright enjoyable as The Squid and the Whale manages to elbow its way to the front of the queue. And hey, for a movie centred around divorce, a self- centred husband, a promiscuous wife, and two confused teenagers (one who thinks Pink Floyd beat him to writing Hey You by a technicality, and the other who partakes every once in a while in getting drunk or masturbating in public and wiping his semen wherever he pleases), that's quite something.
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Psychological War of the Roses
nycritic8 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
When husband and wife decide to split, the only ones who get hurt are the children, and even though Joan and Bernard Berkman are in the center of their nasty divorce, their two sons -- Frank and Walt -- are the ones going through the trauma. Noah Baumbach wrote and directed this insightful, biting story of a family deadlocked in its inner battles based on his own life experiences and the result is bittersweet.

Bernard claims to have been an influential author of novels who has fallen on hard times. Frank idolizes him and has the same clipped, insolent tones as if he were talking to an admiring audience. Bernard openly attacks his wife Joan as if it were a requisite for their marriage to exist and Frank decides he too can't stand her. On the other hand, Joan, once Bernard casually reveals her affair with a neighbor, is coming into her own as a writer and as selfish as she may seem at times, she's the better person in the marriage. Walt, the youngest son, tilts towards her but is going through his own inner changes and is expressing it through masturbation -- especially on library books and his mother's lingerie.

After the Berkman's separate, Bernard and the boys move into the new house -- a rickety place within the vicinity -- and Joan initiates her life with Ivan, Walt's tennis tutor. A quadrangle and a triangle of sorts develops when Bernard rents a room to one of his female students, Lili, and begins a tentative affair with her. Frank, who is going out with a girl he seems embarrassed to be seen with, also pines and almost succeeds in seducing Lili. His father even encourages it. Events involving Bernard's and Joan's war eventually lead to a nasty head which will make Frank take a decision about himself.

What makes THE SQUID AND THE WHALE such a great little film is how natural it seems at all turns and how slice of life it is. I kept getting references from French New Wave all over the place. Baumbach writes his characters like real people at all times. Bernard's relationship with his sons is real. Look at when he and Walt curse over losing a table tennis match in almost exact verbal intonations, or when both he and Frank lock themselves in their elitist world and chatter about Kafka, how Bernard has decided he was once a brilliant writer which may or not be true, and how "A Tale of Two Cities" was a lesser Dickens as if reading it meant getting an eye infection. Frank, in imitating his father's worst traits, when it is discovered that a song he'd written was in fact a song by Pink Floyd and in a Ted Bundy style argues that "it was as if he had written it so it was his by appropriation" exposes him for the empty snob he is on the inside. Joan, while a little unsympathetic here and there, is a real human and one who maintains her composure when its clear her writing career is on the rise even if her family is about to implode. When she propitiates the demise of her family it's at first seen as an act of selfish abandonment, but one look at Bernard and his abrasive, self-obsessed, hurtful personality and all is explained. Now, Walt has a more internal character development despite some verbal outbursts at the beginning of the movie. Once the family is divided and he is left increasingly alone, his psyche begins delving into his own sexual awakening which under the detached music of Tangerine Dream is seen as something he himself doesn't understand. It's clear he's more tolerant of the two brothers and able to accept Ivan -- an much better guy as his mother's new guy.

There's also an interesting subtext involving the film BLUE VELVET that may or nor may be intentional. While Frank invites his father to see SHORT CIRCUIT, his father arrogantly puts that film down (for being commercial) and decides they will see BLUE VELVET. The climactic scene where the main characters converge at the Williams' household seems to open a door to Frank's sexual fascination with brunettes and fuses his progressive revulsion of Sophie, a dead ringer for Laura Dern. The appearance of the dark-haired Lili increases this -- she holds within a similar mystique that lures Frank and leads him to push Sophie away in a painful scene.

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is a sharp domestic drama about bitter people caught within their own patterns of behavior and it lingers on after its abrupt but symbolic ending. Even with Walt's forays into bizarre behavior, which is not as disturbing as a part of a boy's growth, it's Frank -- Noah Baumbach's apparent alter-ego -- who has the moment of clarity to see things as they really are and not be a figment of his father's poison. The moment he realizes he has been a pawn in a needless war between Bernard and Bernard -- not Bernard and Joan as initially depicted, he does what anyone would have done: run and let his feet and instinct take him to the truth.

And as is the case with these kinds of movies, all of the performances are on-target. Laura Linney continues on her winning streak of textured, modern women. Jeff Daniels made me feel like I was in the presence of a real jerk who could have a moment of sympathy but chose to remain locked in his delusions, and that takes guts. Ditto of Jesse Eisenberg who at times reminded me of Ted Bundy. Anna Paquin and William Baldwin fill out believable people with their minimal scenes and Owen Kline made me think of an adult trapped in a kid's body. Overall, this is a near-perfect film from start to finish.
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So horrible.
Marina18 June 2007
Ugh. The other reviews note that this story is based on Noah Baumbach's own story of his parent's divorce. But if it's true, does that make him the plagiarizer or the potty-mouthed serial masturbator? It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to immortalize their family with these sloppily constructed, clichéd caricatures of the sort of people you might have found in Park Slope in the 80's. The parents exhibit a reprehensible lack of concern for their kids as they finally arrive at divorce. The mother character is not expanded much beyond showing that she bore her dissatisfaction with her husband by having numerous affairs times during the course of the marriage. The father character is shown as an insecure blow-hard, affected more by his wife's professional success than by her infidelities. The children are, essentially, little versions of their parents, and are emotionally victimized by each of the parents in their (supposed) struggle to cope with their divorce. They develop disturbing habits, which are ill-addressed by the parents who are too busy wallowing in their own miseries to effectively address their children's' unspoken cries for help.

This poor character development & over-abundance of unseemly airing of personal grievance make this film feel like a student film. A BAD student film.

On the up side, Park Slope was perfectly captured & portrayed, instantly recognizable. I don't know how a big a deal that is considering that it hasn't changed all that much since.

This film was a disappointment.
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It has a mercifully short run time.
acs_joel30 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The full page ad in the local arts & entertainment weekly exalted The Squid and the Whale as, "Marvelous...Fresh & Fierce...Exhilarating...Sharply Comical", but it is none of those things. My date and I saw the film last night, in a theater filled with sophisticated film buffs. There was an occasional chuckle and an isolated laugh, here and there, but there was mostly an uncomfortable silence throughout the film.

We all collectively squirmed in our seats, looked at one another and winced when the preteen Frank masturbated in the school library, then wiped his semen on some books on the shelf. Who would find this humorous?? It is a badly conceived scene and done in bad taste, only to be touched upon again later in the film. The homosexual, pedophile market will find this film exhilarating.

The Squid and the Whale looks as if it was written in two weeks, while high on coke or something turned in by a college sophomore, who pulled an all-nighter on the last day to write an assignment. The term, "assman" was used repeatedly, each time reminding me of a classic episode of Seinfeld. If writing is to be original, you can't go around lifting catch phrases from sitcoms.

The acting is understated throughout, with the exception of Laura Linney's occasional shriek and raised eyebrows.

The film's sudden ending was a relief.
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Tortuous and unpleasant entertainment
acricketer12 March 2006
This is an awful film. It seems that the more pointless, introverted ( there is nothing for the audience here )and desolate a movie, the more its applauded. "If you don't get it darling, you don't understand art" What is entertaining about a bunch of very unhappy, unpleasant people being unhappy and unpleasant to each other? Clearly it has struck a chord with the intellectual crowd who recognize the types in themselves or others they know. Its 'a.. look, aren't I clever" movie, and "I must be clever to get people to pay to see this and say nice things about it (morons!)" It is self seeking and self indulgent. The acting is good. The folks are caricatures that make you despair for hope, goodness and love of your fellow man. If life is like this film portrays, pray for an alternative.
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Very real learning experience, but ultimately boring
siderite13 July 2006
This movie is a good film, that's for sure. The actors perform brilliantly and the script is original and touching. However, all this is boring.

I guess people with an interest in the social aspect of one's life will find this very nice and good. For the parents (and children) who are on the same path as the character, should they choose to really understand the movie, it will be a learning experience that will save them from a lot of pain and anguish.

OK, the guy is a cowardly hypocrite that hides behind his intellectual aura tons of frustration and, surely enough, stupidity. The woman leaves a life of discomfort and maybe even fear, but lacks the courage to do anything about it. She cheats on the husband then leaves clues to it, so that the responsibility of the divorce would fall on him. The sons pick sides based on age, both mimicking behaviour that they don't understand yet, and thus making fools of themselves. Very weird and socially tense situations, but that's it. After the first half an hour you know everything there is to know, only the awkward situations remain, in a hostile, not humorous manner.

The ending is as devoid of resolution as the entire content. The problems are there, you know what, where, when and how, but there is no solution. In the end, the film is nothing but a portrait, you either like it or you don't.
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Not Impressed.
BobsBrotherFutureman28 September 2005
I saw this film at the New York Film Festival two nights ago. The entire cast was there, which helped to boost my spirits a little. The film seemed like it had great promise. It started out with great promise, but half-way through the film, I was getting more and more disappointed by it.

Noah Baumbach, the filmmaker behind "Kicking and Screaming," and Wes Anderson's new partner has some talent, and it is apparent in the film. It is perceptive and it has a few good ideas. The film itself does not flow well. The acting is very good, I will say that much. However, the problems it faces are the writing and the directing.

Baumbach has led us into the lives of characters with NO redeeming qualities whatsoever. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but when you make a movie dealing with the topics he did, empathy and understanding is almost crucial. Most of their qualities could have been avoided, if Baumbach had not played so much of it out for comic value. The Royal Tenenbaums did something very similar, but despite all the family's anger and arrogant/eccentric ways, they still managed to gain emotion from the audience. Squid and the Whale just makes you feel empty.

Not much is wrapped up in the end and not much is said. We see how divorce effects the lives of two boys and how they both suffer from it. We see one who has his mind warped by his father and his regret in the end. We also get a lot of moments and nuances where we are unsure if they are supposed to be taken seriously or not. By the end of the movie we are not left with hope for the characters, we aren't left thinking they are doomed either.

It is also quite apparent that Baumbach is Andersons protégé'. Many moments, many colors and styles play out as if it were one of Andersons. The only problem is, all these moments are forced, as opposed to the natural feel that Anderson has. Anderson did produce this film, so it could have a bit to do with it, but if he helped him write the screenplay, perhaps it would have been a bit more cohesive. It feels like Baumbach had a laundry list of quirks and ideas and formed a movie around them. This isn't a bad thing, but it almost felt like he had something to say at the same time.

In the end, the film, while not bad, turned out to be trite and almost self-indulgent on Baumbachs part. I cannot recommend this film, simply because there are movies out there that deal with this subject matter in a much better way. S&W is too busy trying to find meaning that it gets lost in its own eccentricity and never emerges again.
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